Okay, so let me get this straight. Now that I’m 27 years old with a high-powered career in Hollywood, and a life that most people would make fools of themselves on a reality TV show to have, now I find out that I’m not who I thought I was – that I’m only half Mexican? My saint of a Mami seriously had an affair with a white guy from her church group, and lied to me my entire life?
I know, this shouldn’t freak me out, but I’m already not-Latina-enough in the eyes of my traditional family. To them, I should have been married years ago. And no real Latina has to order take-out they remind me. Now, I have to admit to being a gringa? How will I ever live this down?
The answer is clear. I have to prove that I still have roots! And I know just how to do it – I’m kicking off my 10-step plan to become more Latina by . . .
Dating only Mexican men. Latinos are hot. Especially the bad boys. To tell the truth, I’m going to enjoy this step. But no one seems right . . . except George Ramirez, one of my coworkers. Unfortunately, George is more Americano than I am. He can’t even speak Spanish. He simply won’t do . . . will he?
Learning to cook, home-style. What can be so hard about slapping together a tortilla? I used to make them with clay in pre-school all the time. But, uh, this career girl has set off the smoke alarm a few times in the past. After a few private cooking lessons, I should be able to show my smug sisters that even I can warm a man’s belly with more than a shot of Tequila.
Mentoring an at-risk Latina. Catching Lupe tagging my car leaves me with two choices, send her to Juvie or take her under my wing. Even if she doesn’t know it, I’m about to change her life. But between her switchblade and her bad attitude, I’m starting to wonder who’s more at risk: her or me?
When I’m finished, I’ll be able to out-Latina my sisters and cousins, no problem. No one is going to accuse me of be half anything ever again. And yet . . . who knew being myself could be so much work?
"Becoming Latina in 10 Easy Steps is a wonderful story that starts as a catalyst for change and gradually blossoms into a love story... I absolutely love this book because it is so full of character and women of different ethnic backgrounds can relate to it on some level."
--Romance Readers Connection
"That girl in your book is crazy, if she were my daughter I'd ring her neck."
--my mother (LOL)...
"Superb chick-lit tale. Delightful. Fans will appreciate this solid character study that showcases the third generation, the "McD" hyphenated crowd that is so Americanized much of the roots are gone even with two older generations still alive and kicking. 4 stars!"
--Harriet Klausner, BN.com
"A sexy and poignant tale about discovering your true self."
-- Caridad Pineiro, author of Sex and the South Beach Chicas
"Fresh and compelling, Lara Rios deftly delves into the inner workings of a woman trying to figure life out."
-- USA Today Best-selling authors, Julie Leto
Rule number one about weddings. Never assume the weather will be the same where you’re going as where you are. I drove from Los Angeles to Palm Springs. Yes, I know Palm Springs is a desert and it’s always hotter than at the beach, but I totally fried. My already dark skin is at least three shades darker where it was exposed, and the satiny dress I had on felt like saran wrap tightening around me until I couldn’t breathe.
Amelia’s big day had finally arrived, and I couldn’t be happier. This meant there would be no more engagement parties, or family discussions about it ad nauseam, or bridal showers. At least for this particular relative. The drawback to having a big family is that you have a million events to attend every weekend. When someone isn’t getting married, someone else is having a baby shower, birthday, anniversary party . . . you get the picture.
Amelia picked the desert because she chose a southwestern theme for the wedding, and she wanted the natural surroundings to be, well, natural. If she’d have asked my opinion, I would have told her that June in the desert was completely insane, but hey, no one asked me.
Anyhow, the worst part about this wedding wasn’t that I was dripping wet in some parts and charcoaled in others – though that was bad. The worst part – the part that sent me home like a blubbering teenage fool with mascara stains running down my cheeks was the bomb my cousin, Sonya, dropped between the toast to the bride and groom and the lap dance Carlos performed for Amelia before he took her garter belt off with his teeth.
Sonya is a real bitch so I didn’t believe her at first. She’s the kind of chick who loves to stir up trouble, you know? She has no life so she enjoys bringing misery into other people’s lives. I guess that way she’s both entertained and she doesn’t feel so terrible about herself.
So there we were, me, Sonya, Pepe (Amelia’s brother who I swear must belong to a gang. The boy is 22 and has more gold chains and cell phones hanging from his body than anyone I know), my aunt Lydia, and my grandma Lulu. I’m sipping on dry champagne, trying not to be bored silly. Pepe gets 3 phone calls in a matter of 6 minutes. He speaks in code – I have no idea what he says. He hangs up and offers a lazy smile. "The chicks love me," he says.
I smile back because he really IS very cute.
"You find a good Mexicana, Pepe," Aunt Lydia says. "One who can cook and likes to make babies. None of these skinny, boyish-looking gueras you like to hang out with, you hear?"
Aunt Lydia is not his mother. She has no children. How could she when she’s always busy volunteering in a dozen pro-Mexican/pro-Chicano groups, furthering some cause or another. Of course, her second function in life involves butting into our lives – telling us to get married and have kids while she’s free as a bird.
But we all love her because we know if there’s one person in our family we can count on, it’s Aunt Lydia. Like the time she drove all the way to Las Vegas to bail my cousin Theresa out of jail for being drunk and underage in a casino. Didn’t even tell her parents. She did plenty of lecturing and even doled out her own punishment, but she saved Theresa from spending the night in jail and probably losing her driving privileges.
But today Pepe isn’t impressed with her. He rolls his eyes. "I do plenty of Mexicanas, Tía, you know what I mean? But the problem with them is that they’re too hung up on family. I don’t need to meet their mamás and stuff. I’m like a tumble-weed, sabes? I need to move from chick to chick. Spread my seed."
I laughed. Couldn’t help it. "Tumble weeds have no seeds."
"Have your fun," Tía continues. "But Mi’jo, don’t mix the blood in the end."
Sonya frowns and stares at me.
What? I think but don’t say it.
"Don’t you want to stand up for yourself and tell Aunt Lydia that a little mixed blood ain’t bad? Hasn’t hurt you any."
"Me?" This was the start of her bomb. "I don’t have mixed blood. Both my parents are Mexican in case you haven’t noticed.” I’m proud of how mature and sarcastic I sound.
Sonya smiles. A fake, totally fabricated, totally an I’ve-got-something-so-big-on-you smile that none of my sarcasm even makes a blip on her radar. "I’m talking about the blood you inherited from your real father."
I’ve only had one father. My mother has been married only once to the same man for 34 years. I tell her to shut the f*@! up and that she’s not being funny.
"Come on, you’re 32, how long are you going to pretend you don’t know?"
"Don’t know what?"
My grandmother holds up a hand. "Enough."
I notice my aunt Lydia is sitting stiffer and won’t meet my eyes. So of course now I’m starting to wonder what the hell is going on.
"Okay, Sonya, spill it. What are you getting at?" My parents weren’t mixed – that I knew, but maybe there was a White or Black or Asian ancestor in our past. So what? Good. I sure as hell wasn’t planning on marrying a Latino.
Sonya shrugs like it doesn’t matter, but I could tell she was dying to tell me whatever bit of smut she felt she had on me.
"No," Aunt Lydia says to Sonya in a very serious tone. I swear she was acting like Sonya had a secret that threatened national security.
"Come on, Tía," Sonya says. "Everyone in the family knows Marcela’s real father was the guero her mother slept with when she cheated on Tío Juan."
Say what? Cheated? Guero? I look at my dark skin. Sonya was on drugs. There was no way I had a white father. And my mother would never in a million years have cheated on my father. "Are you trying to be funny?" I ask her, no longer willing to take her gossip lightly.
Sonya looks disinterested and shrugs again. "If you don’t believe me ask your mom."
I look from Sonya to my aunt to my grandmother. No one speaks up to deny the incredible accusation Sonya has leveled at my mother.
"Tía?" I plead for support.
"Speak with your mother Mi’ja," she says. "You’re still just as Mexican to me."
Hello? Was I in the twilight zone? Just as Mexican as when? Two seconds ago? All I could do was stare at her in disbelief. Besides, I didn’t give a shit about being Mexican enough for my aunt. I did care that I may have a different birth father than I believed for the past 32 years.
So I took off to find my mother. She must have known I was upset, maybe from the distressed look on my face, because as soon as I stopped beside her at the table reserved for my family, she stood and grabbed hold of my upper arms. She angled her head and frowned. "Qué pasa?"
Qué pasa was that I was freaking out. If what Sonya said was true, then how dare my parents – my entire family keep it from me. But I was very proud of myself. I simply said in a calm voice, "may I speak with you in private?"
Of course private at a wedding party with 800 or so relatives with distant cousins so distant we had to shake hands and introduce ourselves for the first time while the bride and groom said "I do" . . . let’s just say we found a barrel cactus to stand beside.
I didn’t beat around the bush. This was my mom after all. I told her what Sonya said. My mother looked horrified and I sighed a huge breath of relief and waited for the words of denial to come tumbling out of her mouth. I waited and waited and waited. "Well?" I said finally.
"It’s not as bad as it sounds," she said.
I certainly hoped not.
"I was young and I felt so pressured by marriage and all the expectations thrust upon me. But your father and I got through it. He forgave me and I love him so much. There’s never been anyone else since that tiny indiscretion."
I stared at her. My mother. My sweet, giving, rock of a mother who my family counted and depended on for moral guidance. The one who advised us and lectured on proper behavior and how to follow the path God had planned for us. The one who made albondiga soup and taught my sisters and me how to make tortillas (still the only thing I know how to cook) while telling us how important family bonding was and not to ever forget that family was the only thing that mattered in life. I stared at her, trying to merge the image of my saint of a mother with the snake, and the cheat, and the liar who would have an affair, break her marriage vows, and then go on with life as if she’d done nothing wrong.
"Marcela, speak," my mother said.
Yeah sure, but where to start. First of all, she’d explained that she’d had an affair and that Dad forgave her, but what about the question of my paternity? "Are you saying . . . ?" I found my voice but not the right words.
"Yes, it happened. But that was a lifetime ago."
"Thirty-two years ago?"
"A little more than that."
"Thirty-two years and nine months?"
My mother blushed.
"Oh for Christ’s sake, Mom. Who’s my real father?"
"Juan is your father."
"Don’t play semantical games with me, Mom." Suddenly, I had become the adult and she the child. "You know what I’m asking. Who donated the damned sperm?"
"Watch your mouth and have some respect."
Respect?! She wanted respect? Was that funny or what? I was practically gasping for air. "Who was he?"
My mother glanced around to make sure no one was listening to us. I had forgotten by this point that we were at Amelia’s wedding and that other people were actually dancing to Shakira’s latest, eating, chatting, and having a good time all around us.
"His name was Scott and he played college football and attended my prayer group. That’s where I met him," she said confidentially.
Oh great. What did they do – get it on between asking Jesus to forgive them? Ugh, the image was too ugly to picture. "He was white?"
"Yes, but very open to other cultures and especially interested in anything Mexican."
Obviously. "So what happened?" I crossed my arms. "Did you love him?"
"No. I liked him a lot, and perhaps if I hadn’t been married something deeper might have grown between us. Mi’ja, he was a good man with a wonderful sense of humor. But I was a stupid, scared little girl, and he became an easy way to avoid my difficulties with Juan."
I swallowed wondering if I’d inherited my own sense of humor from this mystery man.
"When your father found out, he tried to kill Scott. He was so hurt."
"What did you expect?"
"I was lucky that he was able to put it behind us and that he still wanted me."
This was when the tears started. I tried to blink them away, but it was a lost cause so I brushed them away with my fingertips. Dad forgave her because he had a heart of gold. My father is the most wonderful, honorable man in the world. I love him with all the hero worship of a young girl still. To me, he was and would always be my only father. Whomever this scum, Scott was who would sleep with a confused, vulnerable, married woman, he was no one that mattered.
"Mi’ja," my mother began when she noticed my tears.
I took a step back, I just didn’t want her to touch me. Was I wrong? I shook my head and turned around and left. I stuck around long enough to be forced to participate in the stupid catching of the bouquet. I didn’t catch it. Big surprise there – I couldn’t get a man to stick with me long enough to pop the question even if I used a hot glue gun. Then I left and cried all the way home.
I don’t even know why it affected me like that. After all, nothing has changed. Juan is my dad. He raised me. He loved me. In fact, he loved me best of all. But somehow, I felt like my mother had cheated on ME, been disloyal to ME. And in a way she had.
© 2008-2013 by Lara Rios. All Rights Reserved.